Is it time to switch your data storage to the cloud?  Many small and midsize business owners are in order to manage their growing data needs. A survey of  100 companies conducted by Twin Strata at a recent cloud computing conference  indicated that five out of six respondents already are using or plan to use cloud storage in some capacity.

Cloud storage provides you with an easy and affordable way to protect critical company data.  Pricing models vary and enable you to scale as your needs grow. Under a pay-as-you go model, you pay for usage and consumption. With a fixed or subscription based pricing model, you pay for a set amount of storage each month with additional charges if your use exceeds the amount.  Also with cloud storage, you offload maintenance tasks such as backup and data replication to your service provider, which frees up your time to focus on your core business.

With cloud storage, you can retrieve and upload documents anywhere you are — in the office or on the road – since all you need is an Internet connection. Cloud-based  storage solutions also enhance collaboration among team members who increasingly are geographically dispersed. For example, someone can edit a document and upload it to a folder for other team members to review and comment, eliminating the need to email files to each other.

Since there are a range of cloud storage solutions, consider your specific needs before choosing one. Stephanie Watson suggests several questions to ask in “Five Tips For Choosing Cloud Storage Solutions.” Among them are:

What files do I want to store?  Consider if you need to store entire copies of programs, documents or personal records of clients. There are specific criteria for each in terms of space, security and access.

Do I want manual, automated and/or scheduled sharing and backup? You’ll need a completely different type of system if you want automatic or scheduled backup versus dragging updated files to the system.

What level of security do I want?   Will your files will be stored in a data—center that also has backup procedures and criteria to protect them in the event of a natural disaster. Watson advises that you ask about geo redundancy, which means your critical company data will be stored in two separate geographic locations to protect it from outages or a catastrophe. Also ask how data is encrypted.

You’ll find you’ll have a range of choices. Be sure to choose a provider that is reliable who enables you to meet your business needs at a cost that makes sense for your business.

Suggested additional reading: “Questions to ask a cloud computing provider